Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Never-ending Thoughts on the 2018 Pocono Race

It is day three of thoughts on the Pocono race. It is different waves. First was looking at the race, taking what we knew and commenting on it. Then it was looking at the thoughts and feelings after Robert Wickens' accident. Today I want to look at other things that happened during the race that did not get attention on Sunday because it was relegated out of discussion and it wasn't talked about yesterday because it still didn't feel right.

A lot of people were up in arms over the start and it took out one car and significantly hampered the race of another. Twice in as many races the initial start has been a flashpoint for IndyCar with the pole-sitter in each case being accused of funny business to disrupt the field into the first corner of the race.

After watching this race and watching a handful of NASCAR races and issues both IndyCar and NASCAR has had with restarts, restart zones and more, I have an alternate way for when the race returns to green flag action and it takes it out of the hands of any driver. The green flag should be waved or the green light should come on when the pace car hits the line at pit in.

Here is why:

1. It takes it out of the hands of a driver who could manipulate it to brake check the driver behind them and potential cause an accordion-like accident similar to the one we saw on Sunday.

2. Drivers don't do the hurry and wait build up to a restart zone. There is no point in building up speed and then quickly forcing the field to decelerate and then stomp on the throttle to hope to gain an advantage. The pole-sitter or the leader is no longer in charge. If he or she wants to do that and decelerates coming to the line and the lights go green then he or she could get snuffed out and end up losing ten positions. In this scenario a driver would have to stay on edge, remain focused and be ready to go because an external force decides when the race becomes green.

3. It is cut and dry. Once the pace car hits the line, the green light comes on and drivers can hit the gas. No more of this restart zone, the leader can start anywhere between two lines. It is just like a stoplight at the intersection outside your house. The light turns green and then everyone can go.

It seems simple to implement. Are there issues with it? Sure. The pace car isn't perfect. We have seen plenty of pace car errors throughout the years but I think it decreases the chance of an accident occurring and another driver being at fault. One thing IndyCar has had a problem with throughout the years is the pole-sitter or leader playing games with a start, whether it has been the last few weeks with the abrupt deceleration or Hélio Castroneves being full throttle and eight car lengths ahead of the field before the flagman even has the green flag in hand. This might be the best way to save the drivers from themselves.

I got to watch some of the race broadcast from Sunday and Tony Kanaan was in the booth after his retirement. He was insightful and he fit in with Paul Tracy and Townsend Bell. Does that mean Kanaan should join a four-man IndyCar booth like NBC does for NASCAR? No and besides, Kanaan has a contract for next year and I think he still wants to be a driver.

But the one thing that hit me is how rotten Kanaan's year has been. Some of it might be age and every driver regresses a bit when they get older but it seems like Kanaan has had the little things take him out of races this year and the worst part of it is they have occurred at oval races where he is most likely to shine. A tire puncture forced an extra pit stop in the Indianapolis 500 and he got back in the top ten before a spin ended his day. His Texas race was over before he could break a sweat after a grazing the wall and a throttle sensor issue took him out early a Pocono.

Unfortunately, this hope of a renaissance at A.J. Foyt Racing with this successful driver has not happened. If anything, it has happened about four years too late. I am not sure when or if it can turn around for Foyt. The good news is the team has said it is retaining both drivers for next year but it seems like it doesn't matter who the drivers are. The problems are deeper than that.

Finally, I want to go back to the lack of track time the teams had at Pocono. There was a split camp over whether it was fair the drivers had an hour of practice and a qualifying run before the race and many seem to think extra time should have been given.

Part of me thought there was a chance for a brief warm-up session in the morning just to get some rubber into the racetrack. That didn't happen.

It was talked about in the booth and Kanaan and Bell both agreed that they liked the get to it nature of an hour practice followed by qualifying with an hour final session. Kanaan even said that you get all this time at Indianapolis to try things out and then can't make a decision but at a race like Pocono the team is forced to get to the point.

I think Pocono was a rough weekend. It was a two-day show and rain came after qualifying. I think two-day shows save the teams from themselves. Not every oval race should be a three-day show. Teams need to save money and unnecessary expense should be limited. In this case however, with a new aero kit and changes from Indianapolis and with few teams having time at the track maybe IndyCar should have scheduled a test at Pocono for Friday and given the teams three to six hours to learn and understand what this car can do.

It is hard for the series because it isn't like the 1990s where you can get every team to test and figure out the aero package. In a perfect world, IndyCar would have tested multiple days with every car at Pocono before this race to figure out the low downforce aero kit. We don't live in that world. The series and the teams have to kind of figure it out as they go.

If adjustments are to be made to the aero kit for low downforce racetracks before next year, and it seems like that is a possibility, IndyCar should schedule a multiple day test at Pocono. In my mind, I think it is more pertinent that teams and the series test at Pocono than say Road America or Iowa, two places where teams tested during the summer. Not that nothing more can be learned from a road course or short oval but rather there are so many opportunities to use the high downforce kit in race weekends that the low downforce kit should get more attention in testing than it does now.

These are some of the lighter thoughts I had from the weekend that didn't seem to fit in on Sunday night or yesterday. A lot of thinking has occurred over the last 48 hours and I am not sure I am done writing about this past weekend. Some of the thoughts were light like the ones above but after Wickens' accident and the dangerous nature of racing it allows you to visit a dark place and you start to realize the dark nature of motorsport that is constantly trying to be hidden in fan autograph sessions and corporate hospitality suites. I want to share those as well because I think it is important to be open. It might not be pleasant but it is important to take into consideration this part of motorsports and its history we ignore.